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Making a difference is the best part of the job, says ICU nurse

'Having a patient's family on Facetime while I'm in the room holding the patient's hand while they pass is the most heartbreaking thing I have ever experienced,' says Barrie resident Tessa Carvalho

Editor's note: With National Nurses Week upon us, BarrieToday is profiling some local nurses who are doing great things in our community. 

Tessa Carvalho loves being a nurse, but she didn’t always see a career in health care. 

“I actually originally wanted to be a lawyer,” admitted Carvalho, adding when she got to the end of high school and it was time to choose a university and program, she was at a loss. 

The thought of going to law school was overwhelming, Carvalho told BarrieToday, noting she had ultimately settled on majoring in math and going to school to be a teacher. 

“Randomly, one day my mom suggested nursing school and it just clicked! I'm not sure why with my love of and natural draw toward care-giving I didn't think of that on my own," she said with a laugh. "I've always been a caregiver at home.

“Growing up, I was always so excited at the thought of being a mom one day and always looked for opportunities to care for those around me. Putting others' happiness first was my top priority. … I didn't give it a second thought and immediately applied to nursing programs," Carvalho said. 

Carvalho ended up being accepted into the Georgian College/York University nursing program. The Barrie resident has spent the last four-and-a-half years working in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket.

She says she enjoys the ability to focus her attention on just one or two patients. 

“I love being able to really invest my time in figuring out what's happening with them so I can provide the best care possible," Carvalho said. "I also love to learn new things and ICU definitely provides that. There's a million new things to learn every day.”

Carvalho also truly loves the community that's created when working so closely with her colleagues, day in and day out. 

“The staff I work with are beyond phenomenal. We all work to support and hold each other up. Nursing is a very emotionally demanding profession and having an amazing group of people to listen, understand and support you is key," she said. 

The best thing about being a nurse is simple: Getting to make a difference, Carvalho added. 

“Not all outcomes are positive ones, unfortunately, but every situation is an opportunity to make a difference in the life of a patient, whether that be helping them down the road of recovery or helping them pass comfortably and peacefully," she said. 

The most challenging aspect is being put in situations where we are asked to do more and more with less resources, which she says ultimately takes away from staff’s ability to provide the care they know they can and want to provide.

“I've heard some nurses described as cold and heartless, but please know that we have to put up a bit of an emotional wall. It's a self-protection strategy, but we truly put our heart and soul into our jobs," Carvalho said. 

Being a nurse during a global pandemic has definitely changed how Carvalho and all of her nursing colleagues are able to do their jobs.

“Families are a huge part of a patient's care plan and not being able to have them at the bedside to see their loved one's condition and help in making decisions in person has been really challenging," she said. "We have been able to utilize iPads to Facetime families, which has been great, but truly not the same.

“Having a patient's family on Facetime while I'm in the room holding the patient's hand while they pass is the most heartbreaking thing I have ever experienced and, unfortunately, we dealt with a lot of death over the past year so it was a common thing," Carvalho added. 

"Families deserve to be at the bedside with their loved ones and I look forward to the day that can safely happen again.”

Seeing first hand how the pandemic has affected her patients  and the people who care for them, Carvalho is pleading with the community to stay the course a little longer. 

“I know everyone is sick of lockdown, so are we. We are tired, burnt out and miss seeing our friends and family just as much as everyone else does,” she said. “We want to go out shopping and eat at restaurants. We want to travel, too.

"So as a community, can we please just band together, follow the rules and end this so we can get back to life as we enjoy it.”